Sir: While the level at which the Government has set its requirement for a minimum nuclear deterrent remains a matter of contention, Peter Melchett's accusation that it is increasing Britain's nuclear arsenal "threefold" ("J'accuse Malcolm Rif-kind", 12 June) is plainly incorrect. He appears to have completely ignored the total withdrawal of Britain's free-fall nuclear bombs by 1998 (of which there were probably about 170 in the 1970s).
Calculations based on other information released by the MoD this year point to a planned doubling of warhead numbers deployed on Trident submarines compared with their Polaris/ Chevaline predecessors.
However, this year's Defence White Paper states that once Trident is fully in-service, Britain will have 30 per cent less deployed or available warheads than it had during the 1970s. Although precise figures have not been provided, this probably corresponds to a reduction from roughly 300- 320 (original Polaris plus free-fall bombs) to 210-225 (Trident) warheads.
It would be unfortunate if the serious questions that remain concerning Britain's nuclear weapons policy were obscured or deflected because of exaggerated accusations of Government conspiracies. For its part, if the MoD was less opaque about its intentions, an informed debate would be more likely.
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